by Margaret Atwood
Genres: Fiction / Literary / Short Stories / Suspense
“You believed you could transcend the body as you aged, she tells herself. You believed you could rise above it, to a serene, non-physical realm. But it’s only through ecstasy you can do that, and ecstasy is achieved through the body itself. Without the bone and sinew of wings, no flight. Without that ecstasy you can only be dragged further down by the body, into its machinery. Its rusting, creaking, vengeful, brute machinery.”
Stone Mattress is a collection of 9 short stories – 3 of which are connected. Within this collection you have suspense, murder, revenge, themes of ageing and self-examination, and a lot of imagination and a hint of crazy. I love stories that take a seemingly everyday scenario, and then throw in a completely fantastical element to turn everything on its head. That’s what this collection does.
In the first three stories, we follow Constance who is learning to depend only on herself and examining her worth after the death of her husband, Gavin who is Constance’s ex and appears to be having some kind of mid or late-life crisis, and Jorrie, a former fleeting affair of Gavin’s who answers to no one but is about to be stopped in her tracks. All three characters are in the last phases of their lives and questioning their decisions of the past, including the ones relating to each other. Even in their old age, many years since they were closely connected to each other, they are still affecting one another in different ways.
Then we have “Lusus Naturae”, the sad story of a young girl with vampire tendencies that cast her out from her family and community. “I Dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth” was probably my least favourite story in the collection. It’s a story about relationships and friendships and the two “ships” colliding. For some reason I just didn’t connect with it as much as the other stories.
In “The Dead Hand Loves You”, a celebrity horror-novel author broods over the unwise, snap decision he made over the distribution of profits from his book sales. In the title story “Stone Mattress”, an aging seductress crosses paths with someone from her disturbing past who she would rather forget, while on an adventure cruise holiday. Consequently, she takes her revenge. And in “Torching the Dusties”, we watch from the POV of a visually-impaired elderly woman as a raging protest mob surrounds her retirement village and barricades the residents in, in order to carry out their evil intentions.
My favourite story of the collection is probably “The Freeze-Dried Groom”. The idea of it is just so crazy, you could almost imagine seeing it as a headline on the nightly news. It’s the kind of bizarre “what-if” scenario I create in my head all the time, and then quickly dismiss as being totally outrageous. I really should start writing them down, there could be good material there.
Basically, in The Freeze-Dried Groom an antiques dealer goes along to a storage locker auction, with a shady ulterior motive of securing a particular locker that’s related to some dodgy criminal stuff he’s involved in. He wins a number of lockers at the auction, and later when he is looking through them all, he finds the contents of one to be just slightly disturbing. I’ll let Margaret explain…
“He’s getting a very odd feeling. He squeezes in past the dress. If what he’s thinking is right, there ought to be some champagne: there’s always champagne for weddings. Sure enough, here it is, three crates of it, unopened. It’s a miracle it hasn’t frozen and burst. Beside it are several boxes of champagne flutes, also unopened: glass ones, not plastic, good quality. And some boxes of white china plates, and a big box of white napkins, cloth, not paper. Someone has stored their entire wedding in here. A big-ticket wedding.
Behind the cardboard boxes there’s some luggage – brand-new luggage, a matched set, cherry red in colour.
And behind that, in the farthest, darkest corner, is the groom.”
That’s right, he finds THE GROOM in the storage locker too! WHAT KIND OF CRAZY WORLD IS THIS?? I love it. I’m not going to share any more with you, there is more to the story but you’ll just have to find out for yourself if you really want to know what happens. You do, don’t you? Why is the groom in there? Who put him there? What happened to him? WHYYYYY?
More than one of these stories ends in an utterly unfinished fashion, leaving you staring at the pages in disbelief that there is no more to be found, but leaving your own mind to decide how you would best like the story to continue.
I have read various occasions that Margaret Atwood doesn’t waste a word. Having now had my first Atwood experience, I would agree that that is an absolutely accurate statement to make about her writing.
Did not like it – It was ok – Liked it – Really liked it – It was amazing
Linking up with Maxabella Loves for The Weekend Rewind